I first tasted Chef Perfecto Rocher’s cooking during his brief stint at Lazy Ox Canteen. For one glorious week at Lazy Ox, Chef Perfecto, a third-generation Valencian paellero, prepared a different paella on each night. Each paella was glorious in its taste, aroma, and presentation. It was with sadness that I learned of his departure from Lazy Ox last year. Since then, there were rumors of his joining Taberna Arros y Vi and Hermosa Restaurant Group (neither deal ever materialized).
Now, Chef Perfecto has resurfaced, with partners Lee Weinberg, Stephen Gelber, and Adam Fleischman (of Umami fame) in their new space on Melrose Avenue, called smoke.oil.salt. We had dinner there in its first week of operation.
VERDICT: Very, very promising. I think the tastes of Valencia came through in most of the dishes we ordered. The portions in each dish are just a tad larger than your usual tapas, which makes for ideal sharing for a party of 3 or 4. The space itself is dark and inviting, with mostly private tables, one communal table, and available bar seating. The menu is presented in Valencian/Catalan, with English translations. Service was very good, but occasionally our server was unfamiliar with the names of the dishes (not a big deal, in my opinion). Valet parking: $6/vehicle. The wine list is Euro-heavy, with a mini-section of Spanish cidras (ciders). There is a Coravin system for those who wish to try wines poured by the glass.
Highlights included the Bunyols de Bacallà (cod croquetas, with citrus aioli), Bravas Trencades (fried potatoes, serrano ham, chorizo, fried egg), Calamars Amb Mongetes (Monterey Bay baby calamari, warm cranberry beans – On the night we went, however, Chef Perfecto also added firefly squid, which was excellent in its own right), and the Cassoleta de Fideua Negra (squid ink pasta, Patagonian shrimp, chanterelle, honey aioli – Chef Perfecto substituted quahogs for the shrimp in the fideua on our visit – A great touch). For dessert, try the Crema Catalana Amb Compota Citrica (catalan custard, mandarin compote, smokey ice cream).
Minor misses included the Pa Amb Tomaca (Catalan tomato toast) – I thought the bread was a tad too toasted. Also, the pieces of their famed Pernil Ibèric (highest grade iberico ham - hand-carved) were cut too thick. To emphasize again, these are minor missteps which can easily be resolved.
Sunday and Monday nights were supposed to be “Paella Nights” at smoke.oil.salt, but I was disappointed to hear that the kitchen won’t be rolling out any paellas for another 2-3 weeks. But then I realized - I should give them a break, after all… It is only their first week in business! Definitely though, we will be coming back for dinner on “Paella Night”!
Total cost of our meal (before gratuity, party of 4): $285, incl. food, 2 glasses of wine, 3 beers.
smoke.oil.salt is an exciting new addition to the Spanish dining scene in L.A.
7274 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90046